We live in an either/or world. Either I'm right, or you're right. I either have, or I have not. Either I'm ok, or I'm not ok. What if it doesn't have to be that way? In philosophy, religious studies, and business, the both/and idea opens up the playing field and allows for more possibilities than the rigid either/or model. Both/and says that we can both be right. And maybe, that I can be both not ok, and ok at the same time.
In DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), this is the dialectic. A dialog between two seemingly opposing ideas. The idea that two things can be true at the same time. That there is space for both, and that we don't have torture ourselves with the either/or. I can experience this intense craving and also not use drugs or alcohol. I can feel scared and move forward with the scary thing. I can feel angry and guilty about my anger and silly about feeling guilty and believe that my anger is justified, all at the same time. There don't have to be ors, even when all the ands don't seem to make sense.
In EMDR, a highly effective technique for treating trauma, we see the both/and concept in the practice of dual awareness. In fact, EMDR works largely because it allows us to remember and in some ways re-experience a traumatic event, while also attending to the present moment, where we are reminded that we are safe. EMDR asks us to feel distress and (re)process unpleasant memories, and at the same time, to hold onto the awareness that in this moment, we are ok. In fact, EMDR can't work without this dual awareness. With no awareness of our current safety and ok-ness, the trauma is too scary or overwhelming, and no healing will occur. And without holding space for the discomfort of the trauma to arise, it remains hidden, unprocessed, and lurking underneath to continue to do us harm. Even outside of EMDR, I believe that healing requires both: feeling discomfort, and feeling ok.
We don't like feeling discomfort. (Thank you, Captain Obvious). Much of human behavior is done to avoid discomfort. Sometimes, really maladaptive, harmful behaviors are continued despite negative consequences because we believe that they will allow us to avoid discomfort. The trouble is, that the only way for the uncomfortable emotions to leave us is to move through us. By the time people come to therapy, they have usually accepted the idea that they are going to have to experience some discomfort in order to heal. Sometimes that knowledge is the very barrier that keeps people from getting help. But here's a bit of good news - I see one of my number one jobs as a therapist as helping you remember the other half of that equation. Yes, working through your stuff that you've buried will be uncomfortable. It will feel bad. Sometimes, really bad. But at the same time - you are also/already ok.
Sometimes we are so used to feeling pain (manifesting itself as depression, anxiety, addictions, physical pain, etc.), that we have lost sight of the other piece of dual awareness. Healing cannot occur when we are solely mired in our pain. We must also, at the same time, hold a tangible sense of safety - an awareness that we are ok. So, one of my most important jobs as a therapist is to help you develop the connection with that part of yourself. It is only when you feel connected to your inherent ok-ness, safety, and worth, that all of the uncomfortable stuff can be effective. So, it's ok to feel like shit sometimes, as long as you also are connected to the fact that you are ok. Most people are great at the feeling crappy part - reach out for help if you need support in connecting to the good stuff that will allow your suffering to have meaning, and bring about healing.
I've included below a meditation that I have used with my clients, intended to help you practice this dual awareness - experiencing an uncomfortable feeling while maintaining a connection to your safety and worth. If at any time during this meditation you feel overwhelmed by your negative feelings, or unable to feel connected to a place of ok-ness, simply stop the meditation and simply return to slow, deep breaths.
Melanie Storrusten. Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Owner of Align Wellness Solutions.